The New Orleans Saints can’t catch a break when they play the Los Angeles Rams.
Last year, a blown pass interference call in the NFC Championship game against the Rams cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. This year, with the stage set for revenge, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was knocked out of the game with a thumb injury.
The injury occurred in the first quarter of Sunday afternoon’s game. As Brees followed through on a pass to tight end Jared Cook, the QB’s hand collided with the raised hand of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Brees would finish out the rest of the game on the sideline with part of his hand and wrist taped up. X-rays were taken, and the future Hall of Fame quarterback doesn’t seem confident that he’ll be back before next Sunday, saying, “Yeah, I am concerned. I’m hoping it’s not too significant.”
With ligament damage disallowing Brees from properly gripping a football, the Saints quarterback is expected to miss up to six weeks of action.
Brees, who was three of five with an interception in the first quarter, was replaced by the highest-paid backup in football, Teddy Bridgewater. In only the third game in which the Saints were unable to score a touchdown under head coach Sean Payton, Bridgewater was 17 of 30 for 165 yards as New Orleans lost 27-9.
Now, with Brees expected to miss time for the Saints, who is poised to win the NFC South?
Powers of the NFC South
After reaching the NFC Championship game a year ago, Payton’s Saints came into the year as favorites to win the division once again. That’s no surprise considering the team returned the main components of last year’s squad.
However, with New Orleans failing to jump out to a 2-0 record and set to be without Brees for a period early in the season, the NFC South isn’t quite so cut and dry.
Three teams in the division are currently sitting on a 1-1 record, with only the Carolina Panthers (0-2) winless through the first two weeks of the season.
Sitting atop the NFC South standings are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1), who hold a -8 point differential, which is best in the division. After falling to the 49ers in the season opener, the Bucs took care of business against the Panthers in the only game within the division thus far.
The Atlanta Falcons (1-1) are second in the division after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night in a close game. If Matt Ryan can continue hitting receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley for big plays, the Falcons will be tough to beat.
The last-place Panthers have one of the league’s best weapons in Christian McCaffrey, but that doesn’t appear to be enough to make them contenders. Through two games, quarterback Cam Newton has thrown for 572 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.
Who’s Next in Line for the Division Crown?
The Saints’ Week 2 game against the Rams showed that New Orleans isn’t the same team without Brees at QB. So, with Brees set to miss time, who has the best chance of taking the NFC South crown?
Before the season, New Orleans was the favorite in the division with -160 odds. Tampa Bay entered 2019 as the distant fourth with +1,200 odds. Stuck in the middle, Atlanta (+320) and Carolina (+450) were projected to have similar seasons.
Now, the Falcons and Panthers look miles apart. An impressive victory over an NFC favorite shows that Atlanta can be dangerous, while a tough home loss to the Bucs shows that nobody will be afraid to play Carolina right now.
The good news for New Orleans is that Atlanta, who appears to be the next strongest team in the NFC South, doesn’t face off against the Saints until Week 10. With a slew of games against AFC South and NFC West competition standing in the way, Atlanta may not get the chance to play the Saints without Brees.
If Brees comes back before that matchup, the Saints are still poised to claim the division title. If Bridgewater and the Saints let Atlanta get out to a three-game lead before the return of Brees, it’s the Falcons’ division to lose.